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Grand Forks woman missing since 1984 identified as body found in June

A Herald article from 1984 reports on Shirley Whether, who disappeared more than 30 years ago. Remains found in June near Oslo, Minn., were identified this week as hers. (Herald Photo)

OSLO, Minn. -- Remains found in June near Oslo belong to a Grand Forks woman who was believed to have drowned more than 30 years ago. Now family are grateful to finally know what happened after all these years.

The body found along the Red River by two anglers is Shirley Ann Whetter of Grand Forks, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office announced Friday. She was identified after DNA from family members was compared with the remains.

Old police reports and Herald articles from the time she went missing shed some light on how Whetter disappeared, with law enforcement concluding she took her own life.

Whetter, who was 48 years old at the time, was given a ride on April 15, 1984, to the Eagles Club in the Point neighborhood in East Grand Forks, according to incident reports from the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks police departments. She was last seen at 8 p.m.

Whetter, who grew up on a farm in Hettinger County, was a graduate of the North Dakota School for the Deaf in Devils Lake, according to an obituary published in the Herald several days after she disappeared. Since 1982, Whetter had lived at Valley Memorial Homes, which at the time was on Almonte Avenue in Grand Forks.

She told a Valley Memorial orderly who gave her a ride to the Eagles Club she would get a ride back with a friend, the reports state.

Whetter left a note written on a black slate saying she was unhappy with life and planned to drown in the river, according to police reports. A Valley Memorial nursing supervisor told police Whetter had suffered from depression for quite some time and had medication to help her, the report said.

The Grand Forks Police Department filed a missing person report with the East Grand Forks Police Department, Grand Forks Lt. Brett Johnson said Friday.

Investigators found footprints leading into the Red River, along with a purse, according to the reports. Rescue workers dragged the Red River multiple times in search of Whetter. Cold water and strong currents hampered the search, according to Herald articles.

“The undercurrent is so tough right now, the dragging operation might not help,” former Grand Forks Fire Department Capt. Marlin Nelson told the Herald in an April 17, 1984, article.

A helicopter also was used to search, according to police reports, but Whetter remained missing. In November 1984, the case was classified as inactive by Grand Forks Police.

A memorial service was held at Valley Memorial several days after Whetter’s disappearance.

All East Grand Forks Police Department documents except the initial report have been destroyed, said East Grand Forks Lt. Rod Hajicek.

After the human remains were found in June, law enforcement received numerous calls from the family members of missing relatives. No foul play is suspected in the Whetter case.

Her son, Ron, told the Herald the family is happy to know what happened to her.

“Our family is extremely thankful that our mother has finally been found,” the Whetter family wrote in a statement that thanked everyone who helped find and identify her. “Our mother’s funeral was held in 1984. Therefore, only the immediate family will be attending a private celebration of her life that is scheduled for the near future.”

Another active missing persons case in Grand Forks is Kristi Nikle, who disappeared in October 1996 when she was 19 years old. Veronica Safranski Argyle, Minn., disappeared the same month from Warren, Minn. Some speculated the remains found in June near Oslo belonged to Safranski, but dental records helped the Marshall County Sheriff’s Office ruled out that possibility.

Oslo is about 20 miles north of Grand Forks.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers business and political stories. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family continues to raise registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as the Dickinson city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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